A Wonderful c.1880 Ventriloquist’s Dummy; ‘The Sailor’ by Alfred LeMare

Origin: English
Period: Late Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1870-1885
Height: 29 inches (at maximum with head in position)
Width: 7.75 inches (Shoulder to Shoulder)
Head Height: 9 inches (without handle)
(all approximate)

The Victorian period dummy of good build quality with concave reverse, the head with two operating mechanisms being a crying effect and mouth, the whole dressed in a buff coloured Royal Naval inspired sailors suit with blue chevron and collar, the papier-mâché head with most of the original felt hair remaining and the wooden body with wooden poles from the hands and feet for extra body movement, carved black wooden shoes (one lacking) and with the wooden hands painted in a light skin colour (repainted?). The face with an amicable expression is also in a skin colour, though slightly darker than the hands, with the cheeks reddened, the lips painted red, the eyebrows dark brown, the painted eyes in a deep blue.

In tired overall original condition, there has not been any attempt to restore the figure, which is, usually a blessing IE there is no over-painting here or badly worked repairs and he proves very evocative of an early figure. The mouth moves open and the eyes would have once squirted water as a crying effect mechanism, but unfortunately the rubberised tubing and pump have perished. The right leg is missing but could be replaced. Glass eyes were more commonly used but when a figure had a mechanism for crying it needed to have painted eyes with apertures for the liquid to exit by.

The blue jean collar is perhaps the most recognisable item of the sailor suit and it is often considered lucky to touch a sailor's collar. By the 1870s, the sailor suit had become normal dress for both boys and girls all over the world, and Some Western cartoon and comic characters use a sailor suit as their trademarks; examples include Popeye, Donald Duck and Spoilt Bastard. This figure has taken that inspiration, and this, along with the figures build and materials it uses, dates it to the 1870s-1890s.

Alfred LeMare began business in 1861 making property for theatres, but he later specialised in magic and ventriloquial goods at his shop in Manchester, England. He supplied figures for Fred Russell and Arthur Prince. In today's collector world of ventriloquist figures there are a few very rare figures and one is the Alfred LeMare. This builder worked in the 19th century and created his figures of both papier-mâché and wood.

The uncanny nature of ventriloquist’s dummies has enthralled and spooked people for decades, and they continue to feature in horror films to this day. The idea of the ghost in the inanimate object is not a new one, Freud has written at length on the subject in his discussions on the uncanny, and ghost stories have featured dolls and portraits coming to life for centuries.

Vent figures with a nautical theme like this one always have seem to have a more powerful aesthetic than regular dummies and this, along with the figures ripe old age and the illustrious maker prove highly evocative making him a wonderfully decorative and atmospheric fragment of entertainment from the Victorian era and a rare one at that.